Heather Curtis calls herself a forever volunteer.
Pre-COVID, she’s worked at volunteer centers, helped gut houses after natural disasters and been a part of All Hands and All Hearts, an organization that helps build those houses back up again.
Now, she has become a “vaccine fairy,” helping people across New York state find COVID-19 vaccinations.
Curtis’ journey all started back in January, when vaccines were near impossible to book due to limited supplies and confusion over who was eligible.
‘I saw how hard it was’
Curtis, a 43-year-old Woodbury native, made it her mission to get her parents vaccinated, as her dad just suffered from a major stroke.
“I had appointments for them in Ellenville,” she said, “and that was the week when everything got cancelled because there weren’t enough shipments.”
She was then able to get them appointments at The Armory in New York City, shortly before it changed its policy to NYC residents only.
“I saw how hard it was for me to make appointments for my parents, and I realized how many people wouldn’t be able to do this if they weren’t computer savvy,” she said. “And then you have to be on top of it as soon as they’re released or otherwise you’re left in the dust.”
That was when she went on social media and got to work.
Social media snowball
“It really snowballed from Facebook posts of my friends’ parents having trouble finding appointments, and I went to go find them some,” Curtis said. “And then it spread even more from word of mouth and I became this ‘vaccine girl.’”
And she’s not doing it alone. One of her friends, who did not want to be named for this article, is also helping behind the scenes.
“He became somewhat of a vaccine specialist, because he’s really good on the computer. He has a six-panel screen so he can book six or seven appointments at a time,” said Curtis. “So I feed him the information and then I have a spreadsheet in order of who contacted me first and we just go down.”
Her and her friend have now helped more than 300 people around New York State find vaccination appointments.
As she hasn’t found much luck finding appointments in Orange County - until very recently; she has scheduled most of the appointments at New York City’s Javits Center. And she isn’t limited to helping just Orange County residents, either.
“A pregnant woman from New York City found me on Facebook somehow,” said Curtis. “She messaged me at 10 a.m., and by 2 p.m. that day she was vaccinated.”
No email, no internet, so she calls them
Curtis said that as long as people are okay with appointments being booked last minute, and can be flexible with going to New York City, it gives her and her friend a better chance at finding them something.
Curtis said a lot of the people who are referred to her are people’s grandparents, people who have been left in the dust and don’t have email or access to the internet.
So she calls them.
“Because you can leave an email or a link at the end of an article, but if they don’t have a computer, how are they going to be helped?”
Why she does it
Curtis isn’t in it for money: she doesn’t charge anyone for her efforts at getting them their vaccines. And that’s not without receiving some skepticism from folks who genuinely don’t understand the work she’s doing, since there have been instances of people offering similar services and charging for them.
“I can’t tell you how many people are like ‘what can I give you? Do you take payment? And I’m like ‘absolutely not,’” said Curtis. “When people tell me to charge for appointments, I’m like, well, no, that’s not what this is about.”
She admits it’s been tiring, and at times, emotional.
“It’s kind of gotten a little bit crazy, to the point where I’m doing almost 15-16 hours a day. Barely sleeping, if I’m being honest. But I’m all in for this.”
The feeling that people get, Curtis said, while watching their loved ones get that shot, is one of the reasons why she does it.
“One of my friends is a breast cancer survivor, and she was online freaking out about not being able to get a vaccine,” Curtis recounted. “So when they finally opened up appointments to cancer survivors, I was up at 7 a.m. and got her an appointment for the very next day.
“When I told her, she started sobbing, just from that feeling of relief. She sent me flowers afterwards, with a note that said ‘Thanks for saving my life,’” Curtis said. “That really got to me.”
“These are people’s lives. And I know it’s just a vaccine appointment, but it’s nearly 95 percent against this thing that’s ruined so many lives, a light at the end of the tunnel. If I can help one person, that’s enough for me.”
EssentialsIf you’re struggling looking for vaccine appointments in New York, feel free to contact Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you don’t have access to the computer, call her at 845-537-7686.